Author Archives: Neil McKinnon: Author
Forever a Bridesmaid
Shortly after getting word that my manuscript, Yoshida’s Sword, had achieved 2nd place in a competition (see previous post), I received news that secures my position in the front row of writing bridesmaids everywhere – another 2nd and a 3rd as follows:
- The Shuswap Association of Writers has awarded me second place in the fiction category of the Word on the Lake writing contest for my short story Driving to Newfoundland. The award includes publication in an anthology. The contest is part of the WORD ON THE LAKE WRITERS FESTIVAL which takes place May 19th-21st. Thank you SAOW.
- My non-fiction article, Time Travel in Lantian, placed 3rd in the WRITE ON! competition sponsored by the Royal City Literary Arts Society of New Westminster. This award also includes publication. The judge, Bryant Ross, said, “A vivid setting, excellent resolution. I felt as if I was there, in the passenger seat, enduring the discomfort and sharing the discoveries.” Thank you Bryant Ross and RCLAS.
Actually, being a bridesmaid feels pretty good!
Yoshida’s Sword places Second
Some recent good news. My manuscript, Yoshida’s Sword, placed second for the David Adams Richards Prize, a national competition for unpublished manuscripts sponsored by the Writers Federation of New Brunswick.
The judge, Darren Greer, wrote: “Yoshida’s Sword is an interesting exploration of Japanese/Canadian history and culture, and the broader culture of a man displaced. A literary story with an appealing element of historical suspense.”
Thank you WFNB and Darren Greer.
The story, a mix of history and fiction, tells about:
- a national treasure of Japan that was found in Canada,
- the dispossession and expulsion of Japanese Canadians during World War II, and
- a failed military coup.
It is currently awaiting publication. More later …
What I Didn’t Know Back When I Knew It All
Having skipped directly from adolescence to senility and having reached the grand old age of three score and obsolescence, I now associate with many more individuals of the “senior persuasion” than has been my custom in the past. While the majority are normal fun-loving folks, there is a small minority of gripers and grumblers who cause my teeth to itch and my feet to march to the far side of the street. Occasionally, I don’t spot them in time.
It happened this morning. I came out of my favourite coffee shop and ran smack into Mortimer X, a charter member of SWAC (Senior Whiners and Complainers). I won’t get into detail but most of what he complains about fits into one broad category—everything. “Good morning,” I said, and without thinking added, “How are you?”
He pulled no punches. “I got a bone spur on my tailbone the size of a hockey puck and it pinches every nerve between my head and my ass. This morning my arm went numb when I sat up in bed. My wife, Vera, was preoccupied in the upstairs bathroom so I yelled that I was having a heart attack. In her hurry to finish so she could call an ambulance she knocked her face cream into the toilet while it was flushing making it clog up and overflow. Vera hardly ever swears so when I heard her cussing, I forgot about my arm and ran to the bathroom. I bent over to shut off the water and my glasses fell into the toilet at the same time as I twisted something in my back. I see as well as a blindfolded bat so to get my glasses I’m up to my elbow in the overflowing toilet wearing only my bathrobe when our cat gets under it and swipes at the only thing it sees hanging. We never had the cat declawed so when the ambulance arrives the paramedics didn’t find a heart attack but they put me on a stretcher anyway because of the blood that was dripping out of my scratched scrotum. They laughed so hard at the nature of my injury that they dropped the stretcher and I hit my head and now I’ve got a concussion. The pee and water leaked through the floor and the light fixture and dripped all over our new white sofa that I bought with my credit card to get points so we could go to Mexico for a vacation which I can’t go on now because I can’t fly due to the concussion. I would have hated it anyway because my back is sore.”
Mortimer is one of those individuals who doesn’t believe in bad luck. He knows there’s a reason for everything. He went on to tell me that none of this would have happened if it weren’t for today’s teenagers, gay marriage and Asian drivers.
I confess that I too have been known to do my fair share of beefing, bitching and bellyaching. Hopefully, some of it has been mitigated by my slow realisation that I know less now than I once did. The big surprise is that not knowing everything lets me enjoy more of life.
Lest I be accused of complaining and whining about the complainers and whiners, I’ve decided to list some things that have made life more-than-worthwhile since I’ve become a senior. The list is not long as unfortunately, the rusted-out synapses that cause me to forget negatives have also erased some good memories. I now know that many of the things that make my life meaningful, lend enjoyment and cause laughter have re-occurred for years. Others have only happened once. Here are a few in the order that I retrieved them from my mental storage bin:
- A recent chance to see and reminiscence with old friends, some of whom I’ve known for more than 60 years,
- Going to see The Lion King,
- The annual holiday week with family, this year on Saturna Island,
- Early morning coffee and writing at Sunrise Restaurant in San Antonio,
- Kristen Chenowyth’s singing,
- Early morning coffee and writing at Gourmet Donuts & Coffee in Walnut Grove,
- Hearing Judy laugh (even when she’s laughing at me),
- Taking grandson, Ren to The Honeybee Centre in Langley and watching his sheer enjoyment,
- Watching grandson, Callum’s baseball games,
- Running road races with Kristy, Kelty, Callum, Ren and Judy,
- Reading and talking to an audience where everyone laughs a lot,
- Watching kids splash in the pool at Birds of Paradise staff parties,
- Books provide much pleasure. Here are a few that have blown me away recently and in the past (look elsewhere for reviews). Incidentally, reading to re-enforce political or religious beliefs doesn’t cause an increase of even one degree on my enjoyment meter.
- The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr
- Silk by Alessandro Baricco
- Men at Work by George F. Will (I defy anyone to read this book and not become a baseball fan)
- The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
- Goodnight Sammy Wong by Michael J. Cullen
- The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
- Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
- Everything written by Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and W.P. Kinsella
And a few items dredged up from the more distant past:
- The poem, Agony and Ecstasy, and others by Mark Sconce,
- The performance of Allen McGill in Ancestral Voices at Lakeside Little Theatre,
- The hike into El Salto waterfall at Mazamitla and in particular doing it with Karla and Leif, two young people who are adventurous, enjoy life, and who never complain,
- Carol Bedford’s performance and singing in Carousel,
- Callum enjoying the card we sent him and demonstrating it by memorizing the little story we had written on the card, and
- A trip by boat up a river by Tenacatita—a first for me was seeing crabs crawling up trees.
Back when I knew the solution to every personal conundrum, every world problem and the manner in which every other driver on the road should behave, I found it frustrating that others didn’t recognise my expertise or follow my prescripts. The frustration still ebbs and flows, but the overall intensity has abated and with it the length of time irritation, bitterness and acrimony take up residence in my person. Their absence has left a spare room in my soul which is now occupied by many of the joys listed above.
So, what do I know now that I didn’t know before? Unlike Mortimer, I know that teenagers are as curious, foolish and full of life as they have always been, that gay marriages are just as wonderful and just as disagreeable as other marital unions, and that Asian drivers will cause the same number of accidents as other groups with the exception of seniors who will cause more. I also know that it’s prudent to steer clear of militant radical groups such as whiners, dog owners and vegans.
We’re Number One
WE’RE NUMBER ONE
As an individual, born and raised in Saskatchewan, I cannot help but swell with pride whenever someone from my native province comes up with a unique invention, idea or approach to a problem. From medicare to wheat production, Saskatchewan ingenuity, get up and go, and sheer stick-with-it-ness have often led the world. Some examples:
- Though few remember, in 1951 the cobalt bomb was invented in the city of Saskatoon, pioneering all subsequent forms of radiation therapy used in the treatment of cancer.
- Other places have given it their best shot. During a 400 year period, early inhabitants of Oaxaca removed the top of a mountain and created the city of Monte Alban. A laudable achievement but… in just one year (1970) Saskatchewanites built an entire mountain and opened a ski resort. Not only that, they located it on the bald prairie and threw in a man-made lake!
- In 1993, Michael Jordan decided he wanted to play baseball instead of basketball and he was signed by the Chicago White Sox. Michael did not do well in his new sport and soon returned to the basketball court. The White Sox obviously had the wrong goal. When I was growing up, Saskatchewan baseball teams dressed hockey superstars such as Gordie Howe and the Bentley brothers in baseball uniforms. The aim was not to turn hockey players into Babe Ruth but to ensure capacity crowds, a goal easily accomplished, notwithstanding prairie thunderstorms and the fact that, like Michael Jordan, many hockey stars turned out to be mediocre ball players.
Following in this “first-bigger-better” tradition, Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon has again ensured the city and the province a noted spot in medical history. Let me explain.
Last August, a lady named Sharon Hogg survived surgery for a brain tumor. Two days later her family took her for a short walk around the hospital grounds in her wheelchair. Unfortunately, as they re-entered the hospital, Mrs. Hogg suffered a seizure. Her son immediately ran down the corridor to Emergency and alerted a nurse stationed at the triage desk.
The nurse quickly assessed the situation and then explained to Mrs. Hogg’s son, “There’s nothing I can do. You have to call 911.”
Fortunately, Mrs. Hogg survived. However, the press and other media were unnecessarily critical. Royal University Hospital and the triage nurse were simply pioneering another Saskatchewan first—the solution to rising healthcare costs.
It works like this. When patients arrive at the ER, they are told to go home and call 911, the beginning of an endless loop where no one ever has to be treated—much like getting the same operator back on the line after 40 minutes on hold waiting to speak to the manager. The procedure leads to incredible savings. Patients go around in circles until they either heal or die. The result is a reduction in the use of operating rooms, hospital beds and emergency facilities. Most important, it allows doctors more time on the golf course and decreases the time busy triage nurses have to spend sorting out the order of treatment for wounds and illnesses.
Variations of this approach can be used in other areas of emergency service. For example, every 911 call reporting a fire could be routed to a fire-hall where an operator could simply direct the caller to re-dial 911. True, firemen and firewomen would go the way of button overshoes … but most could probably be retrained as part-time triage nurses.
Another area of potential savings is crime fighting. When police arrive at the scene of a felony they simply tell the victim to dial 911 again. They then proceed to a nearby donut shop. Once crime victims become used to this procedure it should be an easy matter to dial the donut shop directly where the policeman on duty can instruct them to dial 911. Imagine the amount of time saved by underfunded police departments, and the benefit to the environment as donut shops no longer have to toss out the undrunk double-doubles and half-eaten honey crullers abandoned by officers jumping up to answer emergency calls.
These are just a few examples. There are many possibilities. Think of the potential savings in areas such as mountain rescue, coast guard operations, animal distress and military preparedness.
Rather than criticism, perhaps a certain triage nurse should be nominated for the Order of Saskatchewan.
Canadian is Top Dog
On February 17, a beagle named Miss P whose home town is Enderby, B.C. prevailed over more than 2700 cute, cuddly and capricious canines to win “Best in Show” at the Westminster Kennel Club in New York City. As this is the major and most prestigious dog show in America, many experts have declared that Miss P is now Top Dog. She has already made appearances on morning TV shows, lunched at Sardi’s and been given a part in the hit Broadway musical, Kinky Boots.
It’s well known that small town girls don’t always fare well in the big city. Used to B.C.’s pure mountain air, ignorant of urban vices and naive to a fault, this regal but innocent beagle is not only vulnerable but is ready prey for hucksters, fraud artists and back alley schemers.
Thus, it was with sorrow and chagrin that I read that this simple and guileless dog had already spent time with an individual who, in a relatively short lifetime, has been accused of being fraudulent, racist, anti-semitic and anti-vaccination. Surely Miss P’s advisors could have picked more fitting company than Donald Trump.
Whatever happens, Miss P must endeavour to remain circumspect and discrete. Another Miss P (Miss Pennsylvania), also best in a recent show, didn’t keep her thoughts to herself. She was sued and ended up owing Mr. Trump five million dollars.
It’s incumbent on Miss P’s advisors that they get her back to B.C. as fast as possible. This simple lass is bound to be corrupted. Think of other talented young Canadians who have had their reputations tarnished because of instant fame. Innocents like Justin Beiber, Rob Ford and Ashley McIsaac just couldn’t handle it and neither will Miss P. Even in Enderby, they’re planning on making her mayor for a day..